Melbourne Vixens are on the board after one of the most dramatic Super Netball games in recent years against Queensland Firebirds.
Jemma Mi Mi has exorcised the memories of last year’s hurtful indigenous round but was unable to hand the Queensland Firebirds the win they needed to salvage their season, with debutant Rahni Samason handing the Melbourne Vixens a victory after the final buzzer.
Mi Mi failed to hit the court in indigenous round last year but played 48 minutes in a thriller at Nissan Arena.
With scores tied at 64-64 when the final buzzer sounded, the match seemed destined for extra time but the umpires had called a penalty just before time, with Samason converting a two-point shot to hand the Vixens a 66-64 victory and their first win of the season.
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The Vixens had not won a match through the opening four rounds of the season and while they had been improving, they were a totally different outfit with Samason on court.
The 23-year-old finished with 35 points from 27-of-29 shooting, including eight-of-10 from super shot range.
The Firebirds were rated among the competition favourites at the start of the season but have now won just one match from their first five rounds and with just 14 games in the regular season are quickly running out of time to click.
They are not far off the mark, with their losses including an overtime match against the Swifts, Saturday’s two-goal defeat to the Vixens and last week’s three-goal loss to the Magpies.
But having let leads slip in each game, the Birdies know they need to adjust quickly.
“I don’t think you can escape it really, it’s pretty obvious that we’ve won (just) one and lost four and you need to win the rest to have a chance,” coach Megan Anderson said.
“We’re hoping other results go our way as well but it’s something that you just need to take care of game by game and hopefully we can just get a few more goals, they’ve all been tight.
“What we’ve been doing is good, we just need to do good, more moments of more matches.”
Captain Gabi Simpson said her team had been able to play the “moments” well defensively in the finals mad minute with the scores still tied.
“We just didn’t play the moments as we brought the ball through the court in attack,” she said.
“I think it’s our understanding of the clock. When we can’t talk to each other – and the crowd was just incredible, so we weren’t able to communicate with each other and have that understanding for those moments.”
After failing to hit the court at all during Indigenous round last year, Mi Mi played 48 minutes in the loss.
“It felt surreal, I just love playing at home and for it to be Indigenous round and to have my family up in the stands and see the girls wear the (Indigenous) dress so proud and really embrace this round felt amazing,” Mi Mi said.
Simpson said the wider team now had a better understanding of Indigenous round and what it means to Mi Mi.
“I think in the past we’ve accidentally seen having Jem in our team as a badge of honour,” she said.
“And I think it’s really changed to, it’s a real responsibility for us as a team to not only help share the messages that Jemma’s been sharing with us but as a group to keep projecting the change that we want to see and be allies.”
Indigenous round done right
After failing to hit the court at all during indigenous round last year, Mi Mi played 48 minutes in the loss.
And just every aspect of indigenous celebration was planned and authentic, Mi Mi’s presence anything but tokenistic, with the midcourter among the Firebirds’ best, allowing them to play at an accelerated tempo that eventually told on the Vixens.
It’s been well documented that the Firebirds missed the mark in indigenous round last year – not just when Mi Mi did not take the but in initially failing to understand by how much they’d got things wrong.
But Saturday’s game showed just how much things have changed. Mi Mi not only led the team on court and played a significant role in the game but was involved extensively in planning the pre-game ceremonies from dances to a Welcome To Country that included Netball Queensland’s Diamond Spirit indigenous program members.
The proof in the pudding will be seeing an increase in the number of indigenous players in the league in years to come.
Samason’s deadly debut
Mannix’s injury allowed Melbourne to make a surprise move and bring in shooter Rahni Samason to start the match alongside Mwai Kumwenda.
The Vixens have struggled for consistency in the shooting circle after the retirement of veteran goalers Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip, with Kaylia Stanton struggling with her confidence and teen Ruby Barkmeyer still developing.
But Samason’s nerveless performance – she levelled the game in the third quarter before hitting the winning shot after the buzzer – was outstanding.
The 23-year-old has trained with the Vixens since 2018 but after doing an ACL, spending a year in recovery and missing last season due to COVID-19, she missed the Vixens’ main playing list when squads were reduced back to 10.
As a training partner, she is unlikely to play again when Mannix – a Diamonds squad member – returns from injury unless another member of the contracted squad is forced to miss a match.
MELBOURNE VIXENS 66 (Samason 35, Kumwenda 31)
QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS 64 (Aiken 43, Bueta 20, Dwan 1)